Congress 2018 Keynote: "Education: The key to reconciliation" with National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations

By Dale Johnson Posted: May 27, 2018 10:45 a.m.

Chief Perry Bellegarde’s address was entitled "Education: The key to reconciliation"
Chief Perry Bellegarde’s address was entitled "Education: The key to reconciliation" Photo: U of R Photography

“The best way out of poverty is a good education,” Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Saturday morning in his Congress 2018 kickoff keynote address at the University of Regina.

In his talk, Education: The key to reconciliation, Bellegarde said treaties provided the exchange of land for several things – including the spirit and intent to educate.

“If that spirit had been honoured, we wouldn’t have student waiting lists or gaps in student funding in kindergarten to grade 12 schools,” he said.

The 1867 the British North America Act made "Indians and lands reserved for the Indians" an exclusive federal jurisdiction. This means that the federal government is responsible for providing programs and services that most communities in Canada receive from provincial and municipal levels of government, including education (as well as health and social services, roads, housing, water and waste management). Equity and equality are required to address the gaps.

Education funding on reserves – at $6,500 per child – is half the $12,000 per-child-rate in provincial school systems, explained Bellegarde.

Call to Action #7 under “Education” in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 2015 Calls to Action is an appeal for the “federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.”

The Calls to Action were made in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.

Bellegarde made a passionate plea to the crowd of Congress 2018 attendees and members of the general public.

“If you can make space in your heart, mind, and spirit, and get rid of misconceptions about First Nations people, you’re going to create a better Saskatchewan, a better country, and a better world,” he said.

Bellegarde speaks from experience; in 1984, he was the first Treaty Indian to graduate from the University of Regina with a Bachelor of Administration.

As National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Bellegarde is a strong advocate for the implementation of inherent Aboriginal and Treaty Rights, making presentations on the topic at national and international levels, including the United Nations.

Bellegarde’s keynote address underscored the theme of Congress 2018. “Gathering Diversities” reflects Regina as a traditional place of gathering and rich buffalo hunting grounds for Plains cultures. The theme and the National Chief point to education as a new buffalo, providing a new way forward Indigenous peoples and for Canada.


Also on the opening day of Congress 2018, the inaugural speaker in a first-ever for the 87 year-old Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences – an all-female line-up of the Big Thinking lecture series – was Melina Laboucan-Massimo.

During her talk, On the front lines: Indigenous women and climate change, Laboucan-Massimo shared that while Indigenous communities are on the front lines of fighting resource extraction and climate change, they are also on the front lines of solutions.

After witnessing a massive oil spill in her home community of Little Buffalo in northern Alberta during which 28,000 barrels of crude oil were released from a pipeline rupture, she dedicated her work to building renewable energy solutions that are key to a community’s health and vitality.

The connection between respect for the earth and respect for people was clear to Laboucan-Massimo, as she told the audience, “Violence against the earth begets violence against women. It’s not a coincidence that our women are dying just like our land is dying.”

Almost 1,400 square kilometres of leases have been granted for oil sands development on Lubicon lands and almost 70 per cent of Lubicon territory has been leased for future development – without the consent of the Lubicon people and in direct violations of their treaty and international human rights. In 2005, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found that Canada is violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in regards to the treatment of the Lubicon people.

Laboucan-Massimo shared how after watching the devastation of the environment in her community due to resource extraction, where more than 2,600 oil wells on Lubicon territory make it difficult to live a healthy, traditional and sustainable lifestyle, she spearheaded a drive to install 80 solar panels to power the community’s health centre. Her presentation included this video.

A vocal advocate for Indigenous rights and the first Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change Fellow with the David Suzuki Foundation, Laboucan-Massimo has written articles on the tar sands and produced short documentaries on water issues and on Indigenous cultural revitalization, while also working with organizations such as Greenpeace Canada, TakingITGlobal and the Indigenous Portal.

The Big Thinking lecture series is held throughout Congress and brings together leading scholars and public figures who present forward-thinking research, ideas, and solutions to the critical questions and issues of our time.

Congress 2018 is the largest conference ever held in Regina, and runs until June 1. For a complete schedule of free public events, go to